Tuesday is the International Day of the Nurse, and never have we had more reason to celebrate and thank the more than 6000 nurses working in the ACT.
Nursing has always been one of the most, if not the most, admired and trusted professions, but the critical, often selfless role, of nurses has been brought into sharp relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurses have, obviously, been on the front line of coronavirus treatment and testing. But as the pandemic plays out, nurses across our community have continued to do their jobs in other just as important areas - palliative care, community nursing, aged care, paediatrics, maternity, ICU and so much more.
Artist Banksy probably said it best - with no words at all - when his beautiful tribute to nurses was unveiled in England last week: a child playing with his new superhero toy, a nurse. Yet you will be hard-pressed to find a nurse who would ever describe themselves as a superhero. It's just not in their DNA. They are humble, hard-working, caring, pragmatic, vital. And we thank them.
The Australian College of Nursing on International Nurses Day usually holds a breakfast for nurses to get together, network and celebrate the occasion.
As that can't happen this year, the college is encouraging nurses to "hold a self-care breakfast", with nurses planning to "connect online with their friends and colleagues to enjoy this meal, try out a new recipe, have breakfast in bed, or simply have a quiet cup of tea".
The college's chief executive officer, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, said on this special day the college wanted to "shine a light on Australian nurses, and in particular their response to COVID-19".
"We have seen an extraordinary response from our nursing community across the country during this time and we acknowledge and thank them for their expertise, professionalism, quick thinking and tireless work," Professor Ward said.
"Nurses exist at almost every major point in our life cycle, and at the heart of every health and social issue we have. A nurse can quite literally save your life. And will. To be a nurse is to choose a life of service to humanity."
The Canberra Times' chief photographer Karleen Minney captured seven Canberra nurses in their workplaces for this special feature, as the nurses spoke to Megan Doherty.
The midwife, Wendy Elliott
Wendy Elliott has been a nurse for 55 years and a midwife for almost 50. She started her training at Goulburn Base Hospital when she was just 16.
Now 71, Wendy has "lost count completely" of the number of babies she has helped women deliver. She now works in antenatal care, staffing clinics and teaching pregnancy and birth classes to expecting parents. And she has no desire to stop working.
"I'm single now and I just like what I do, it's my life now," she said.
"I virtually can't go out now without someone saying 'Wendy, you taught our classes' or 'You were with us when we had our baby'. My daughter and grandchildren were with me the other day on the top of Mount Ainslie and a lady came up to me and said 'You're Wendy! You're the midwife!'."
I've seen magic. I have seen magic in my profession.Midwife Wendy Elliott
She graduated from training in midwifery at Manly in 1971, meaning next year will be her 50th year as a midwife. She has a poetic way of describing what it is is like to be there at that special time when a woman gives birth.
"No answer is enough to describe what it is to be a midwife," she said.
"It's an ancient calling, a powerful magnetic current which pulls us into this magical, mystical world of touch, presence and intuition.
"I've seen magic. I have seen magic in my profession."
A mum and grandmother, Wendy is an adventurer, having nursed in places from Papua New Guinea to the Arctic Circle. She has a special place in her heart for those less fortunate.
"I suppose because I grew up with people who didn't have much, I love looking after people who haven't got much, those in the Third World. It just takes a little bit of care and they get well so quickly," she said.
"And they're strong and they're resilient and they're tough. It's this coronavirus thing - all my women are so strong."
The coronavirus pandemic has meant changes to birthing practices, such as a woman only having one support person in the delivery room. The birthing classes have to be online or one-on-one. Wendy says midwives have always provided support for women and helped maintain a connection to the family - but even more so now.
"I tell the women 'I'm so proud of you all'," she said.
The community nurse, Emily Costelloe
Emily Costelloe went from politicians to patients as she switched careers from working in administration for the House of Representatives to community nursing in Tuggeranong for ACT Health.
"I always thought that I wanted to make more of a difference," she said.
"My nan was actually unwell for quite a while and she always spoke so highly of the nurses, so I thought 'That's what I'm going to do'."
She has been a registered nurse for three years. Community nursing means mostly attending to patients in their homes, doing anything from wound-dressing to post-operation care to administering medicine. Every day is different, and she loves it.
"We're little bit like a jack of all trades, because we do everything'," she said.
"Community nursing is also special in the sense that it's quite intimate. We go into people's homes as essentially strangers and then we get to know them, we get to know their family, we get to know their pets, so that's really special for me because not only are we doing that clinical care but then also we form these really lovely therapeutic relationships with our clients. We almost become family with them as well."
Emily said the coronavirus restrictions mean she has to take extra precautions to make sure she is not at risk from infection - and neither are her patients.
"Really, it's actually been a pleasant time because we've been able to have that contact with people when they've not been able to see anyone else, especially some of our elderly patients who can't even see their family," she said.
"We're lucky that we're able to have that contact with them."
The geriatric care nurse, Alex Gengos
Alexander Gengos, 48, was a gardener, kitchen hand, computer animation teacher and fish farmer before he became a nurse.
He has been a nurse for 15 years and believes he has found his true calling.
"I was interested in doing osteopathy and I didn't have my year 12 science, and I did enrolled nursing as a way to get into osteopathy," he said.
"I started doing it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, it brought out a good part of me."
After years working in the intensive care unit and emergency department, Alex is now a registered nurse at Calvary Hospital with GRACE - the Geriatric Rapid Acute Care Evaluation team - which provides clinical care to Canberrans in residential aged care facilities to better manage their conditions, preventing a trip to hospital.
Alex says the coronavirus pandemic has certainly had an impact on his patients, even without any local infection outbreaks.
What sick people need are people around them who are being positive and cheerful and loving. So I think people, consciously, make an effort to be their best self.Registered nurse Alex Gengos
"We've been lucky in Canberra, there's no doubt about it. As we've seen around the world, with the aged care facility in Sydney, it has a devastating effect once it gets in," Alex said.
"I think it's been a very difficult time for some residents and a lot of families and loved ones of residents, because a lot of the facilities have imposed quite strict measures in terms of visiting."
Alex says nursing has given him a sense of contentment.
"It's something real. I'm not just working for a paycheck," he said.
"There's something about it that, also, when people are in a difficult position, when they're unwell, it tends to remove barriers between people. The walls come down and you're seeing the person as themself. I enjoy the challenges that it throws up, the problem-solving aspect of it.
"There's a lot of times as a nurse that you have to dig deep, you have to exercise self-control and I think that that's been good for me as a person to help me reflect on who I am and what I want in life.
"Working as a nurse, you're working around great people. I have huge respect for all the people I work with, whether it's the consultants on the medical team, my colleagues or the wardspeople, the clerks, the cleaners, they're all an essential part of it. There's an atmosphere you get in this environment that I haven't experienced elsewhere, a sort of a camaraderie.
"Also because when you're dealing with sick people, what sick people need is people around them who are being positive and cheerful and loving. So I think people, consciously, make an effort to be their best self. That's not to try to paint a totally rose-coloured picture - it can be a really difficult and awful job sometimes. But again, that's where you see people's character coming through."
The palliative care nurse, Kate Reed
Kate Reed, 48, is a mother of five and nurse of more than 20 years' experience.
"I've always wanted to help people and was always interested in the medical and health field as a young child," she said.
"When I was younger, and with that adventurous spirit, it was always about the opportunities it could give to me as a flexible career and working overseas in great locations, which I definitely did in my first 10 years of nursing."
She is now a nurse practitioner in palliative care at the Canberra Hospital and a clinical adviser at Palliative Care Australia.
My goal is to make sure a person can live as well as possible with their disease process, for as long as that might be, whether it's short or quite lengthy.Palliative care nurse Kate Reed
"The reasons I've stayed in nursing are probably more important to myself now. It's more about that I'm able to work with a patient and help them meet their agreed goals of care," she said.
"I am part of a team but my role is actually quite autonomous and my goal is to make sure a person can live as well as possible with their disease process, for as long as that might be, whether it's short or quite lengthy.
"The flexibility is still there, the career opportunities are endless, there's a huge variety of specialties that a nurse can be involved in. It also gives me a voice in my community. I can work inside a service and listen to the community and what they need and build that from within, with the team here at Canberra Hospital."
The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging, she said. Workloads have increased "exponentially" and four of her five children are still school-aged.
"One of the huge things for me as a clinician has been balancing the home schooling with the workload and trying to cope, not knowing how long it may go on for. With an end in sight, you can do most things, but there was a moment there when it looked like it might go on forever," she said.
Kate said she inevitably had to deal with death in her job, but the satisfaction was ensuring the path to it was as smooth as possible.
"The biggest joy for me is when someone comes to me who's got unstable symptoms and I can work with them to build a plan, both pharmacological and non-pharmacological and review them in a couple of days and they go 'Right, I'm starting to feel better'. Because a lot of people will come to me in severe pain and say 'I can't do this anymore, it's horrendous'. And I will say 'Work with me, we'll come up with a plan, give me some time and we'll stay with you and work this out'. And for them to be able to go 'You know what? I can sit down and have dinner with my family. I can watch the TV. I can get out for a walk now' - those things are what keep me going in this role and bring me great joy."
The COVID-19 nurse, Jodie Huet
Nurse Jodie Huet earlier this year was seconded to the COVID-19 public health response. She is the team leader in the case-management area, based in the ACT Health building in Woden.
She and her team call anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, look back at where they might have picked it up, look at where they might have infected others, and help them to manage the virus, staying in contact with them daily. Jodie usually works in infectious disease, but the coronavirus pandemic was something else altogether.
"To start with, there was only a core team of us working seven days a week, 12 hours a day," she said.
"Now, we've got an amazing structure where we've got two identical teams working four days on and four days off, so we are all getting a reasonable rest time in between."
You won't find a better bunch of talented, passionate people who care about what they do. Every single one of them does an amazing job.Nurse Jodie Huet on her colleagues
She says there are mixed reactions when people are told they have tested positive to COVID-19.
"Everybody has had a test so they know that there's a possibility that they're going to have it. People who have a few symptoms are kind of knowing that they already have it. But we have some people with very mild symptoms who are very surprised when they get the call to say they are positive," she said.
"So we tread very gently with people and let them absorb that information, but then we do have responsibilities then to gather that other information [about the possible spread of the virus]."
Jodie, 52, a mum to three adult sons, has been a nurse for 24 years. She previously spent nine years working in the Tax Office.
"As soon as I got into it, I realised it's a hard job but it's an amazing job. We make a difference to people's lives," she said.
"Particularly in public health, it's a bit of an unsung hero, because while we deal with individuals, our goal is to make a difference at a population level," she said.
"The other thing that's kept me in nursing, even through the hard times, has been my colleagues. You won't find a better bunch of talented, passionate people who care about what they do. Every single one of them does an amazing job."
The intensive care nurse, Tom Jeffrey
Tom Jeffrey, 35, has been a nurse for more than five years, the last four in Canberra and the last more than three of those in the intensive care unit at the Canberra Hospital.
He used to work in IT and design.
"I didn't enjoy that particularly and was looking for new opportunities," he said.
"I really enjoy nursing. I did a double degree with paramedics and nursing because I was more interested in the ambulance side, initially, but once I started working as nurse I really enjoyed it."
He enjoys the challenges of intensive care.
"In ICU, you get the sickest and most vulnerable patients, so you can be there to help them during that time," he said.
"Every patient is different because there's a different reason why they might be there. But also, besides that, I guess the culture at work, the team. Everyone works really closely together and I enjoy that part of it.
Death is "part of the job", he said.
"But everyone knows if you're looking after a person in that situation, some people become quite emotionally invested, and the team makes sure that the nurses looking after them is okay as well."
Tom said he had cared for COVID-19 patients and he was glad the numbers needing ICU had been so few in Canberra. He said it was "scary" preparing for a possible outbreak, but the attitude was they would "just deal with it as it comes".
He did see artist Banky's tribute to nurses as superheroes and thought it was "pretty cool", but would never count himself as a superhero, even during the pandemic.
"I guess everyone has their own chosen profession and it's a part of what we do," he said.
The student nurse, Elise Webb
Elise Webb is in her third and final year of nursing at the University of Canberra, working two part-time jobs while she completes her studies as well as serving as president of the UC Nursing Society.
The 23-year-old is Canberra born and bred, attending St Francis Xavier College in Florey.
"I was actually studying a communications degree and one of my sisters was unwell, and when she was unwell I met some of the nurses who were looking after her, and I just thought they were phenomenal," she said.
"It was kind of like this penny-drop moment that 'I think I need to change career paths'. I'm quite a people person but I'd never considered nursing until seeing it in that setting and I've never looked back."
She is hoping to work at the Canberra or Calvary hospitals after graduation, in mental health or intensive care. She says UC has been a good training ground for her.
"I think they hand you so many opportunities - I'm always a person who gets involved in extra-curricular activities," she said.
"I'm president of the nursing society, but I'm also on a couple of other committees. I went to Tonga last year for an international placement, which was absolutely amazing. So I've really loved it there."
Elise said the students were doing their work online during the pandemic. The Nursing Society had organised events such as online yoga classes and Q and A sessions as well as online trivia nights and challenges.
"Just to keep students engaged, we do whatever we can," she said.